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Food Issue - Atlanta chefs share their best advice

Ron Eyester, Ryan Smith, Angus Brown, Adam Evans, Kevin Gillespie, and more share the best advice they ever got from their mentors

We recently checked in with notable Atlanta chefs and asked them to share the best piece of advice they, as young cooks, had ever received. And then we asked them to share nuggets of sage wisdom they've learned over the years. Here's what they said:

?---?<table width=100%">? ?? Ron Eyester, chef/owner, Rosebud, Timone's, The Family Dog "I honestly didn't get a lot of advice when starting out. Most people thought I was crazy to get into cooking because I had received my BA in English and then worked on my Masters. Scott Crawford of Food 101 was a huge mentor for me. Notwithstanding specific advice, Scott opened my eyes to all the moving parts of running a kitchen. And he did it by working alongside me on a daily basis. He taught me the importance of developing cooks so that they could effectively help us execute our ideas. Moreover, because this philosophy drove our entire concept, everybody was truly invested in the process." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Best advice I can give is simple advice: work clean. Complex advice: learn balance early on. Yes, it's important to work hard, push yourself, and display a certain level of intensity, but don't let life pass you by while your work doubles. If your life is properly balanced, you'll get a lot more out of the experience." ??---? ?? Fuyuhiko Ito, executive chef/partner, Umi "When I first started in Tokyo in 1985, my mentor Chef Onoyama told me to learn and study other cuisines from all over the world, develop my palate as a chef and familiarize myself with other foods, culinary customs, and techniques from all over the world. Even if I were going to only cook one style for the rest of my career, the awareness of other cuisines has been a valuable lesson for my career." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Before creating your own menu or opening your own restaurant, master all the classic styles of cooking. I see too many chefs these days come out of gates doing improv-menus — one or two items usually work, and the rest are failures. Always master the basics first. Learn the core, then create your own style. It is important for aspiring cooks to sharpen the basic skill sets, especially knife skills. Also, if you cannot create the same dish consistently day after day, decide on another career." ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? Adam Evans, executive chef, the Optimist "I had just moved to New Orleans and got a line cook job in the French Quarter. For the first time, I was working around all professional line cooks who had been working in the industry for a while. It was obvious that I wasn't as experienced as the others. The walk-in cooler was outside of the restaurant, located in the parking deck — not a short walk by any means. The sous chef saw me walking out there and passed me on his way out to the cooler. He said, 'You're not as experienced as the other cooks, but there is no reason that you can't walk faster than anyone else.' This stuck with me, and I started walking a lot faster from that day forward." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Listen to your chef, ask questions to your chef, work harder than those around you, and realize that sometimes the only thing you have is integrity." ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? Jay Swift, executive chef/owner, 4th and Swift "Keep it simple, beautiful, and elegant." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Cook for your guests, not for your ego or critics." ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? Kevin Gillespie, chef/owner, Gunshow "One of my instructors in culinary school, Chef Hammond, suggested that we all join a gym and go at least three times a week. I remember laughing at him when he said that, but now I understand just how taxing on your body being a chef can be. It certainly helps to prolong your career if you are in shape." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Always try to work at the best possible place you can, while maintaining genuine interest in their work. The first part is nothing new to tell a young cook, but I believe that 'the best' is not always so clearly defined. You should go to work every day and not only learn something new, but also feel like you are a part of what is happening in that kitchen. If your heart does not belong to the place you are cooking, then your brain will never truly absorb what you were there to learn in the first place." ??---??<table width=100%">? ???? Sarah O'Brien, owner/baker, The Little Tart Bake Shop "What comes to mind for me is not exactly advice, but something a mentor said to me in a conversation that was not even about baking. I was bemoaning the density of my academic field, because I felt that there wasnt 'room' for me and my work, and my MFA advisor in Iowa City, poet Cole Swensen said, 'There's always room for a good one.' That and a variation on a theme from Field of Dreams (seriously) pretty much acted as a refrain in my brain when I was convincing myself that I could open a bakery. If you bake it, they will come. ... I distilled that into the idea that if I worked hard enough and made a good enough product, people would support me." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Well, I think I can speak best to aspiring bakers, and I'd say this: Pay attention to everything! Test a recipe, and then test it again, and again, and again. Pay attention and make notes on every batch. Skill in baking comes from repetition, from understanding how the minutiae (humidity, temperature, how long you let your butter come to temperature, the characteristics of a particular brand of flour) affect the final product. You have to love repetition to be a good baker, and you have to know a recipe so well (from all that mindful repetition) that when one of your constants changes, you know exactly what to do. That's my best advice if you want to be a baker. That and watch Field of Dreams. ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? David A. Carson, executive chef, Bacchanalia "In 1997 I was working as a cook at Max's Grill in Florida for a chef named Matthew Alexander. He was an incredibly driven, patient, and passionate teacher who introduced me to a craft. Matthew taught me about life through cooking and about feeding people. He showed me that in this industry I could continue to grow while constantly learning about technique, history, culture, and tradition. His advice was to stage as much as possible and work in a restaurant before I decided that I want to dedicate myself to this profession or before I commit to school." Advice to an aspiring chef: "My advice to young people who want to become a chef? Go to school for finance or engineering or computer science. Cook on your time off with your friends and family. Go out to eat as much as possible. ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? Angus Brown, chef/partner, Lusca "Early in my career I worked at 32 East in Delray Beach, Fla. ... As a cook there you were scheduled for 3 p.m., but everyone would arrive at noon. Arriving at noon you would get to eat lunch with the chef and sous chef and sit in on their daily menu writing. There I learned that working in a restaurant was so much more than just a job. It was about education." Advice to an aspiring chef: "To take criticism. The most valuable thing about cooking with Nhan Le for the last two years is having someone to give me a very straightforward and honest opinion." ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? Tyler Williams, chef-at-large "'Try and learn at least three new things every day,' said by a visiting sous chef from the French Laundry to me at Bouchon in 2002." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Read. Learn what is taught to you, don't think you know better, and be an open-minded sponge. Explore other cultures, and work to understand the history of food and great chefs. Keep your head down but your eyes on a swivel. Do exactly as you are shown. Think about how to do it better. But keep that shit to yourself. ... Be on time, stay late. Listen. Don't talk. Listen. Talk food with anyone who will listen. Live everywhere. Read." ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? Nick Rutherford, chef/owner, The Porter Beer Bar "It's not really anything anyone explained to me, but early on I learned that it can be just as valuable to figure out what doesn't work, whether it's a recipe or a style of management. That way you can avoid the mistake in the future, rather than only imitate what does work and not understand why." Advice to an aspiring chef: "Show up every day to work like it's a job interview. Give 100 percent, and if you're working at a good place you will not only be rewarded for the effort, but the other cooks/chef will put effort into you. When you have learned everything you can from a place, move on." ??---???<table width=100%">? ??? Ryan Smith, executive chef/partner, Staplehouse "Working with Gary Mennie was probably the most beneficial thing for me as a young cook. He had a great way of leading, which is such an important part of being a chef. People wanted to work for him. I was a cook for him at Canoe (2002-2003), and then a sous chef for him at Taurus (2005-2007). He used to always say, "Pick your battles" and "Major on the majors." Those always stuck with me and provided a good grounding point for whenever the shit hits the fan." Advice to an aspiring chef: "I would advise travel. This business is all over the world, and there are some amazing opportunities out there. The only regret I have in my early career is not taking advantage of that. I also think it's a great way to find who you are as a cook, which can provide clarity on where you want to end up." ??---?<table width=100%">? ?? David Sweeney, chef-at-large "I started off in catering. The business I was with was called Tabula. It was located in a very noble neighborhood of Munich, Germany called Bogenhausen. It was the early '90s and a grand time of lavish cocktail parties with intricate hors d'oeuvres and canapés. My business partner, Elisabeth Peters, was far more experienced than I. While preparing canapés for a party of 300 at the home of the Porsche family, her advice to me was, 'You must take into consideration every bite a guest will take of what you are preparing and serving.'" Advice to an aspiring chef: “Eating evokes sensation, which should always be uplifting and energising in the moment. But equally important, is how you feel you have after you have eaten. The day after. The week after. The years after.” ???---?<table width=100%">? ?? E.J. Hodgkinson, executive chef, JCT. Kitchen and Bar "The best piece of advice I received when I was just starting in my career was from the second chef I worked with (2000-2002). His name is John Sanders, the chef/owner of Old Town Grill in Placerville, Calif. I asked him what I was in for in embarking on this path. ... The advice he gave me was to never let what was in front of me be bigger than me. He taught me to see my biggest challenges/hurdles as nothing more than opportunity to be better. That has stuck with me ever since the last day I worked with him, which was 13 years ago." Advice to an aspiring chef: “My advice for aspiring young chefs is to never let yourself believe you are working 'too hard.' A positive outlook, along with a clear mind and humility will take you farther than you can possibly imagine. Keep your chin up, the punches will keep coming, with work ethic and drive, you will succeed.” ???


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